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What on earth is happening in this old photo?!?

16 men standing on top of a log resting on a railroad flatcar, along with a dog and a bicycle. The train car is labeled "Northern Pacific 69318". A bear den is visible inside the log, and 2 openings. A man stands inside the opening to the right.I stumbled on this photo today in the Washington State archives and, well, I have no idea what the hell is going on here.

Let see if the archive’s description can shine any light on it: “Shows 16 men standing on top of a log resting on a railroad flatcar, along with a dog and a bicycle. The train car is labeled ‘Northern Pacific 69318’. A bear den is visible inside the log, and 2 openings. A man stands inside the opening to the right.”

I mean, OK, yes, that is a description of what the photo shows. BUT WHY?!? It gets stranger the longer you look at it. Why are all those guys standing on top of that log? Why is the log on a train? Why is there a bear inside the log? And why did that one guy haul his bicycle all the up on top with him?


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It was published between 1907 and 1915 by Lowman & Hanford Co. in Seattle. That’s where my clues run out. I welcome your theories and your photo captions.


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5 responses to “What on earth is happening in this old photo?!?”

  1. Del Rey

    Looks like the Circus or a traveling sideshow to me.

  2. Morgan Hougland

    I found a postcard version of the photo on E-bay:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/293199290978

    The backside of the postcard reads:

    “A REAL LOG CABIN.

    This log was cut four miles from Aberdeen from a spruce log, 100 feet from the Butt which was 13 feet thick. It is 40 feet long, 9 feet in diameter at one end and eight feet at the other, cut to show at the St. Louis Fair, and is now in Belle Isle Park at Detroit, Mich. There are chairs, settee and table cut inside of log. When sent to St. Louis it housed two black bears and a large cougar. It was made an d sent to St. Louis by Thos. Morgan of Aberdden”

    1. Morgan Hougland

      The St. Louis Worlds Fair took place in 1904.

    2. RossB

      Thanks for solving the mystery. It is very much like a circus. They hauled the whole thing to Saint Louis, to show off the huge log and the bear inside it. As for people standing on top, that was common for pictures (still is, to a certain degree). I have no idea why someone hauled their bike up there, other than the obvious answer (because they could).

  3. Drew

    I can’t believe you found that on eBay. Here is another photo from life in Detroit… https://www.historicdetroit.org/buildings/spruce-log-at-palmer-park

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